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Western beef producer engages kids in ranch life by publishing a children’s book

Written by Natasha Wheeler

RivertonLevi’s Lost Calf is a children’s book, written by BEEF Daily Author Amanda Radke, who spoke to educators about sharing her story in classrooms at the 2015 Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resources Science Institute on June 10.

“I know kids really like the cowboy way of life, and I thank teachers for being interested in bringing it into the classroom,” Radke noted.

Inspiration

As a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., Radke was disappointed to find a very limited selection of children’s books with accurate descriptions of agriculture.

“There were pictures of Disney-like characters that stand on their back legs and talk, beef cattle spotted like dairy cows and a lot of other little things that I noticed. There weren’t many books that fit the bill of what I would want to read to my own kids some day,” Radke explained.

Pairing up with a friend from high school, illustrator Michelle Weber, she set out to write a story that described realistic scenes from the ranch.

Story

“Levi is the main character. He is a cowboy, and he notices that there is a baby calf missing during the roundup,” she commented.

Levi tells his dad that he is going to find the lost calf and then takes the reader on an adventure around the ranch, looking at different wildlife and livestock along the way.

When she speaks to elementary school classes, Radke said, “With the kindergarten kids, we talk about the animals. We talk about what animals eat, how the rancher plays a role tending to the livestock and those kinds of things.”

Working with older kids, she tries to engage them in the story by talking about the writing process.

“For example, we talk about using adjectives to describe things,” Radke said. “I tell the kids that I describe a ring-neck pheasant as a plump, golden pheasant waddling under the shade of the trees.”

Contrasting this description to a bird simply walking by some trees, she encourages kids to bring their characters to life.

Classroom

“I also try to explain the editing process to them, relating it to when teachers correct their homework to help the kids get better,” Radke added.

Fifty different manuscripts were created for Levi’s Lost Calf before it finally went into publication.

“Other lesson plans I have talked about include responsibility. Levi is a young kid trying to prove himself to his dad, and I relate it back to the kids with what kinds of responsibilities they might have,” she continued.

Radke talks to students about the chores that they have at home and why it’s important to be accountable and responsible.

“I also have a vocabulary lesson in the back of the book,” she said.

A list of ranch related words such as corral, grain bin, grazing and roundup are defined in the lesson, available for teachers to use for a weekly spelling list or to incorporate into other areas of their classrooms.

“For me, when teachers can relate to something practical, outside of just numbers and letters, it sticks home more,” she commented.

Radke self-published Levi’s Lost Calf through CreateSpace by Amazon and has, so far, sold over 20,000 copies.

Natasha Wheeler is editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..